The Canadiens Can Still Make The Playoffs - Even With No Regular Season
You have to be good to be lucky, and lucky to be good.
The Canadiens aren’t very good; in fact, they bombed this season, but they could get very, very lucky.
Allow me to explain: mere weeks ago I sadly pondered what lottery pick the Canadiens would get in the upcoming NHL Draft. Such high hopes for the season, all dashed by two eight-game losing streaks. Playoffs aren’t a possibility, right?
Then Coronavirus hit.
It was all a blur: the season was postponed, the draft was postponed, hockey could be played in mid-July in Carolina, school was cancelled, people were forced to self-isolate, and there was a pandemic the likes of which not seen for 101 years.
There’s just this one, tiny silver lining:
The playoffs might be expanded to 24 teams.
How does this work? It’s complicated. In order to account for all teams that reasonably could have made the playoffs (and still end up with an even number of playoff teams), the NHL may use a 24-team format if the season resumes. Montreal is the 24th-seeded team. The top two teams in each division would get a bye, and the other 16 teams would participate in a best-of-three play-in series to determine which other eight teams would make the playoffs. As the standings sit right now, the teams getting byes would be:
1. Boston Bruins
2. Tampa Bay Lightning
1. Washington Capitals
2. Philadelphia Flyers
1. St. Louis Blues
2. Colorado Avalanche
1. Vegas Golden Knights
2. Edmonton Oilers
The other 16 teams would be ranked in each conference using the standard playoff format, with the highest-ranked team facing the lowest-ranked team, the second-highest facing the second-lowest, and so on.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens
Carolina Hurricanes vs. Florida Panthers
Toronto Maple Leafs vs. New York Rangers
Columbus Blue Jackets vs. New York Islanders
Dallas Stars vs. Chicago Blackhawks
Winnipeg Jets vs. Arizona Coyotes
Calgary Flames vs. Minnesota Wild
Nashville Predators vs. Vancouver Canucks
After all this, there would be 16 playoff teams, eight from each conference. There may be more teams from one division than from the other, but that’s the least of the NHL’s worries.
The NHL is considering this option because it includes revenue-producing teams like the Montreal Canadiens and Chicago Blackhawks, teams that would otherwise miss the playoffs. And with the NHL losing 189 regular-season games to the pandemic, the NHL needs all the revenue it can get.
Another reason to like this format is that it includes interesting matchups, such as the Winnipeg Jets vs. the Arizona Coyotes. Old Jets vs. New Jets, that would be fun. There’s also the matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Montreal Canadiens. This matchup has shades of 2010, where the Canadiens upset the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs. We would be able to see if they can do it again. Another great matchup is an Original-Six rivalry between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the New York Rangers. The Rangers have three great goaltenders, two of which are very young, and it would be interesting to see how they stack up against a high-octane Maple Leafs team. Panarin vs. Matthews would be fun, too.
How would the Canadiens do in this format? They definitely have the potential to do some damage. This hiatus (however long it may last) will allow certain players on the team like Tomas Tatar to heal their injuries, and return to the lineup. This would help the Canadiens get back to their November selves – you know, the team that was 11-5-3 when Jonathan Drouin got injured and ruined the season. This break also offers the individual players some time to reflect, step back, take a deep breath, and be ready to improve if the season resumes. Guys like Carey Price and Shea Weber would be well rested in time for the matchup against the Penguins. As well, the NHL has said that if they were to resume, there would be a training camp beforehand. This would be a great chance for Claude Julien to help the Canadiens regroup and pump them up with a spirited pep talk. If I were him, I would say, “Look, we lucked out with this playoff format. Now we have to capitalize on it. We’re playing a potent offensive team here, so we need to clean up our defense. This could save our season, guys, so let’s get out there and stick it to the Pittsburgh Penguins.”
Who would the Canadiens face if they (hypothetically) beat the Penguins? The NHL would re-seed all the teams after the play-in series. This would have the Montreal Canadiens facing the Boston Bruins in the first round. Talk about a fun matchup.
One problem with this type of playoff format is that it would go on for a long time. The Stanley Cup would not be lifted until August. But with the postponement of the Olympics, the NHL has the whole summer at its leisure, and their top priority is awarding a 2020 Stanley Cup Champion. Therefore, they aren't too concerned with time constraints. I like the length of this format, because I hate how July and August are so void of hockey; it gets so boring. Now, hockey would simply continue through that time. It would be great.
Of course, this is all speculation, and I’m probably getting ahead of myself here. This article could be redundant in a week. Heck, things are moving so fast that most news is redundant in a week, even less.
The NHL has been remarkably quiet on its plans for the season. I doubt they know much more than we do. All we can do right now is speculate.
Funny how when you need hockey the most to take your mind off things, it slips away. Where is the blissful distraction of sport when you need it?
Stay healthy, everyone.
Go Habs Go.
Signed, Le Bo